Why Innovation Lab?

Global trends and educational responses

The new knowledge-based and innovation economy is changing the workplace and the nature of work itself.  In the United States, K-12 and higher education are under increasing pressure to address the knowledge, talent and skills that will allow young people to be “workplace ready.” Students, growing up as digital natives, are demanding relevance and contextualization for their learning.  

According to a report from the OECD in 2010, “OECD societies and economies have experienced a profound transformation from reliance on an industrial to a knowledge base. Global drivers increasingly bring to the fore what some call ‘21st century competences.’ The quantity and quality of learning thus become central, with the accompanying concern that traditional educational approaches are insufficient.”

Similarly, the Hewlett Foundation (2012) states: “We found widespread agreement that America’s schools must shift focus dramatically in order to prepare all of our children to succeed in a fiercely competitive global economy and tackle the complex issues they will inherit.”

These are just two of many examples of current research pointing toward the need and the demand to change the way we are teaching our children.

Redesigning schools – beyond improvement or reform

School improvement and reform efforts have typically focused on improving outcomes within the traditional post-industrial model of schooling. However, schools continue to struggle to engage their student body. It is increasingly clear that schools need to design and build innovative new models that enable students to develop the critical skills, motivation, and knowledge to thrive in a rapidly changing world; in other words, schools need to take the initiative to foster innovation in the design and operation of schooling and make learning more relevant and meaningful for students.

The acceleration of digital technology is having an enormous impact on education reforms, resulting in numerous innovations:

  • New blended learning models – offering wide access to knowledge, capitalizing on new technology in combination with face-to-face teaching
  • Micro lectures, video tutorials (e.g., Khan Academy), and custom digital text book development
  • Online courses, large scale participation, personalized learning, such as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses)
  • Integration of community service, apprenticeships, and academic learning
  • Collaborative learning environments and networks
  • Project-Based and problem-based learning – students learn from hands-on real complex tasks
  • Competency-based learning incorporating advancement relative to skill mastery, digital assessments, e-portfolios, College and Work Readiness Assessment
  • Increased public-private and school-workplace partnerships (P-Tech/IBM in New York)
  • “Built from scratch” school models  that represent complete and successful redesign of school (High Tech High, Envision Schools, ASPIRE)

New, successful learning models emphasize relevance, rigor, and relationships by leveraging technology as a tool to differentiate and enhance instruction. Learning is individualized and made relevant and practical, students are well known by adults, and high levels of student engagement and motivation are achieved. These models, over time, will expand and transform schools and learning environments, making quality choices more widely available to students within the United States.

Who Is Benefitting from Innovation Lab’s Model?

Initial explorations of research lead us to the following belief: A school of choice within GHS that takes advantage of the vast resources available through the comprehensive program and offers an alternative to the current model has the potential to meet the needs of students, staff, and the greater GHS community.   An innovative school model offers a wide range of benefits to students, teachers and communities.

Students: Choice is expanded and students are given access to a different school model that may better serve their learning styles and interests, and ultimately better prepare them for our changing society and economy.  To date, 80 students in the GHS Classes of 2018, 2019 and 2020 have directly benefited from enrollment in Innovation Lab courses in their sophomore, junior, and/or senior years at GHS.  Additional students have indirectly benefited from the atmosphere, materials, tools, and expertise available within Innovation Lab, including the GHS Robotics Club which utilizes the STEM classroom and tools for its twice weekly team meetings, and Freshmen mentoring cohorts who are invited to the STEM classroom for small build activities as part of the mentoring curriculum. Each Innovation Lab teacher also teaches outside of the program, so our philsophy has spread into the wider high school academic setting as well.  Our students through their passions and projects have also enriched GHS organizations such as the “Names Day” committee, which prepares anti-bullying education for our students, and many have even created clubs to combat real social issues like sexual harassment in schools.

Teachers: Professional growth and engagement deepens as teachers become designers and facilitators of learning and work in teams to develop and refine practices that can be showcased and shared.  By way of particular example, this past March and July, several current Innovation Lab teachers presented  at High Tech High and a Deeper Learning Conference in Nashua, New Hampshire to share the Presentations of Learning model with other teachers and administrators.  In the fall, our faculty also presented this information at the respected NEASC “Showcase of Model Schools Program” in Massachusetts. We so impressed the commission that a video of our student’s presentations of learning was used later as a teaching model throughout the Northeast. In addition, the Alliance Grant of 2017-2018 has funded professional growth opportunities for new-to-InLab teachers through travel to North Carolina and High Tech High.  This allows invaluable collaboration at a national level.   

Community/District:  Schools, students, and teachers across the system benefit when there are effective options for learning. A school of choice expands options and potentially improves educational outcomes overall for the community. Redesigned models also offer opportunities to engage other partners (in business and in the community).  Administrators and teachers from other schools across the district have visited Innovation Lab and then used what they learned in implementation of related programs. For example, Hamilton Avenue School brought their 5th grade classes to InLab for an experiential learning field trip; Windrose Program teachers visited InLab to meet with teachers about project-based learning, and the planned Innovation Lab expansion to 9th grade has increased our visibility in the community. Adminstrators from Shenendehowa schools in New York also came to take a peek at our program and garner advice from our faculty as they build a new high school.

An additional but essential benefit is that Innovation Lab acts as a hub for research and development of innovative practices that have potential for scale throughout the system. We are well aware that we are operating in a period of change, and while we must adapt we must also carefully research and test new approaches for efficacy before implementing them district wide. The “school of choice within a school” model allows for effective R&D that can benefit students without removing them from the full complement of educational resources available within the high school. It allows us to pilot change on a small scale before spreading it across our vast institution.

Not convinced yet?

Check out this article about High Tech High, a consortium of schools with a similar philosophy:  https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2018/02/06/whats-so-different-about-high-tech-high-anyway/

Here are some videos that inspire us: